Android in space

Admit it, some of you already think the Android OS is out of this world. But now, thanks to NASA engineers, it’s actually destined to get some genuine interstellar chops too.

Scientists at California’s Ames Research Center are using the platform to power bona fide nanosatellites via its innovative PhoneSat project. First, let’s just marvel at the satellite technology here. At just 4 inches in size and weighing in at less than 4 pounds, these little micro space warriors will be expected to break our atmo and traverse outerspace. Then there’s the use of consumer tech. Creative? Absolutely, yes. But it’s also incredibly savvy, as smartphones offer integral features — like GPS, hi-res cameras and fast processors — all on the cheap. In a project like this, budget is key; even the three miniature “sats” themselves will cost just $3,500 a piece.

The first stage is all focused around the number one: Controlled by a HTC Nexus One, PhoneSat 1.0, is being developed with one goal in mind —to withstand the rigorous vacuum of space. If the two nanosatellites merely survive, they will be a success. Of course, if they get that far, the mission won’t end there. The satellites will take images and transmit them back home, basically providing the universe’s most amazing phone-related remote snapshots ever. For Version 2.0, explains NASA, the envelope gets pushed a bit, with engineers at the home base commanding the satellites using a Samsung Nexus S:

PhoneSat 2.0 also will supplement the capabilities of PhoneSat 1.0 by adding a two-way S-band radio to allow engineers to command the satellite from Earth, solar panels to enable longer-duration missions, and a GPS receiver. In addition, PhoneSat 2.0 will add magnetorquer coils – electro-magnets that interact with Earth’s magnetic field – and reaction wheels to actively control the satellite’s orientation in space.

When the launches take place, later this year, it will mark an amazing first.. and it’s definitely going to give a whole new meaning to the legendary line, “E.T. phone home.”

[Via Tecca, L.A. Times, Image via NASA Ames Research Center/Steve Jurvetson]